Doctor Who: season 4 reflections

I’ve noticed a tendency among friends to be increasingly critical of Doctor Who as this season progresses. I’m not sure why this is; could it be that it has become a victim of its own success, that expectations are so high because the standard has been also?

Anyway, in response to a (parliamentary) colleague’s suggestion that season four has been weaker than its predecessors, I decided to have a look back on the 12 episodes broadcast so far.

Granted, Partners in Crime was awful, probably my least favourite episode ever. The “lard monsters” weren’t only not scary – more importantly, they weren’t remotely believable. And I physically cringed when Catherine Tate was waving at her grandfather from the open door of the Tardis as it flew past. Hideous. So not a great start. The one plus point was some terrific acting from Tate.

I thought The Fires of Pompeii was a fine return to form; excellent performances, particularly from Peter Capaldi, a good sci-fi story and some cracking special effects. Mind you, it got me wondering if the Beeb will ever do a historical Who episode devoid of any sci-fi elements. In the William Hartnell era this was all the rage: The Gunslingers, Marco Polo and the Crusaders, for instance, where the Doctor and his companions got caught up in historical events. Bloody boring, mind you…

Planet of the Ood: setting aside all the new age hippy nonsense, this was a very strong episode. But I think the full potential of the Ood as a Doctor Who monster has probably been exhausted: they’re really nice and docile but sometimes they go crazy bonkers and kill people but it’s not their fault because they’ve been exploited. Yeah, okay, we get it.

I was really looking forward to The Sontaran Stratagem, and it didn’t disappoint. The Sontarans were one of my favourite villains from the classic series and, as usual, their “rebooting” by Davies and the team was superbly done.

The Poison Sky proved that when given 90 instead of 45 minutes to wrap up a story, the pace and plotting is invariably superior. Mind you, I thought the whole “hey kids – cars are bad, walking is fun!” message was hardly subtle and just a tad overdone.

I’ve written on this blog before about The Doctor’s Daughter. Despite apprehensions, it was a very strong episode with some good strong science fiction ideas and an intriguing ending.

The Unicorn and the Wasp was arguably the weakest episode of this season. Carolyn is a huge Agatha Christie fan, so she enjoyed the multiple references in the script to Christie novels’ titles (“Why didn’t they tell- …heavens!”). It was pretty much Doctor Who Lite, but enjoyable and nice to look at nevertheless.

Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead were widely and almost universally acclaimed – as have previous episodes written by Steven Moffat – as the strongest in the series. The skull in the spacesuit uttering the line “Who put the lights out?” is as creepy an image as the schoolboy in the gas mask in The Empty Child asking the question “Are you my mummy?” (another Moffat-penned episode, incidentally). Great stuff, and the making of truly classic Who. Both episodes were ingenious, scary and believable – pretty much flawless.

Midnight was an unusual episode. This was the one to which I and other MPs were invited to preview a couple of weeks before it was broadcast. It was a great episode – claustrophobic, tense and brilliantly acted (and it was nice to see David Troughton, the son of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, making an appearance, especially following the appearance in The Doctor’s Daughter of Georgia Moffett, daughter of fifth Doctor, Peter Davison). But if truth be told, those of us who went to the screening were, afterwards, a little puzzled as to why the Beeb had chosen this particular episode to show. Previous screenings have generally been season openers or Christmas specials (though, given the awfulness of season four’s first episode, maybe it’s just as well they didn’t invite us to a preview of that; sometimes it’s not polite to tell the truth to one’s hosts).

Incidentally, this episode was directed by Alice Troughton, the only person to have directed episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures. But she’s not related to Patrick Troughton, which is a shame, really.

And that brings us to Turn Left, one of Russell T. Davies’s greatest triumphs. How would life on earth have turned out if the Doctor had died? A familiar but ingenious conceit, with Catherine Tate playing the Jimmy Stewart part. Utterly, totally brilliant. It reminded me why I am a fan.

So now, with yesterday’s amazing episode, The Stolen Earth, behind us, we’ve only one episode of season four left to enjoy.

If yesterday’s episode is anything to go by, the season finale is going to be extremely memorable – and a tearjerker. I just hope Davies doesn’t wrap it all up, as he did with Last of the Time Lords at the end of the last season, with a “turn back time” cheat: “so it never really happened at all…”

It’s hard, on reflection, to justify the notion that season four is anything other than one of the strongest yet.

No doubt I’ll feel inspired to write about it next week.

Gosh, it feels good finally to be able to write about something important!

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5 Comments

Filed under Doctor Who, Hinterland, sci-fi

5 responses to “Doctor Who: season 4 reflections

  1. Kerry

    This level of obsession is more than a little disturbing. Although having previously been educated by you about the ways of the Ood (after being called one by my nephew) I am intrigued to know more about the lard monsters. You can tell me at tomorrow’s vote!

  2. Chris

    Excellent post Tom. It’s nice to see MPs being into ‘normal’ things! IMHO this season has been excellent though with a couple of stinkers:
    Partners in Crime, I agree, rubbish! The Adipose weren’t scary, they were cute! Some amusing bits but it was big let down.
    Fires of Pompeii – classic! Fantastic sets, great costumes, designs etc, brilliantly acted, subtle, yet noticeables referecnes to later events (with the soothsayer etc), funny bits. My favourite so far!
    Planet of the Ood, also v good.
    Sontaran 2 parter, I agree was also excellent, the Sontarans were great, as was UNIT and the return of Martha.
    The Doctor’s Daughter was a bit disappointing but not bad.
    I liked The Unicorn and the Wasp. A good Agatha Christie whodunnit, reministant of 1982s Black Orchid (the last purely historical story incidnetally).
    The library story was a tale of two parts. I thought the first episode was awful, not scary, just confusing. Thankfully, the story was rescued by the strong second part, but it was the weakest of Steve Moffatt’s stories so far and not especially scary, with no ‘jumpy’ moments.
    Midnight was awful! Just self indulgent twaddle to show off actors talking at the same time. Not scary and it competes with Partners in Crime as stinker of the season!
    And then the finale! ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT so far!!! I’ve loved Turn Left and The Stolen Earth! Can’t wait to see what happens with the Doctor! Like you, I was disappointed with Last of the Time Lords so am keeping my fingers crossed. I have many theories about what will happen, but this is already a long post so I’ll keep them to myself..!

  3. John

    I have rarely read anything from a labour MP recently with which I agreed but I have enjoyed your blog which I came across tonight. Excellent stuff! I watched the first Dr Who and now many years later am in the process of leaving the military. This is the absolute best. Credit to Russell T Davies, his team and, of course, the brilliant cast. I have found Dr Who a great release every Saturday for the past 4 years. Without a doubt the series 4 finale was brilliant, emotional, superb! I loved it (in case you haven’t guessed I think it is probably the best, most complex, connected episode ever). It will be difficult to beat. It also connects us human beings nicely, I think, hence the value of your blog! Keep up the good work.
    PS How do I get BBC invites to see Dr Who early!

  4. Carolyn

    It’s actually ‘Why didn’t they ASK Evans?’. As any fule kno.

  5. Phil

    In the library episodes, the space adventurer who had known (would know) the Doctor. What chance this is the Doctor’s daughter – after a regeneration? Character-wise, there were a lot of similarities. Certainly would explain the Doctor’s attitude.

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